As ever, Thomas Byrne Edsall gets to the heart of the matter, this time via Stanley Greenberg’s polling of Republican voters. We’ve heard a great deal about how crazy the Tea Party types are—how outlandish their claims about the state of the Union are, how demented their personal demeanor appears, how destructive their political blackmail has been, how simply racist they must be. This characterization is satisfying because it makes Republicans inexplicable—we can treat them as the lawless Id of American politics, always returning from the domain of the repressed, always representing deviation from the pragmatic Ego of American politics.
We can wait them out, meaning that when their unruly desires are finally sublimated, and put in the proper, legible, legislative form, why then things will be better. We know the talking cure still works.
But they’re not inexplicable, these “extremists,” and they’re nowhere near emotional. They fear that Obamacare will produce millions of clients for a program—-thus the Democratic Party, and a certain species of state—-that produces dependency on the one hand and fiscal catastrophe on the other. Their fears aren’t paranoid renderings of reality, they’re perfectly plausible extrapolations of already existing socioeconomic trends—-all toward more transfer payments or “entitlements”—-and amplifications of liberal assessments of the Affordable Care Act’s probable effects.
Here’s how Edsall puts Greenberg to use:
“In the six focus groups of Republican voters, according to Greenberg’s report, “few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms,” but
the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.
“Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced they have lost the larger battle:
While many voters, including plenty of Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country as a whole may think gridlock has triumphed, particularly in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing.
“In his report for the Democracy Corps, Greenberg describes the Republican base electorate as fearful of being strategically outmaneuvered:
They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy-—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.
Just so—-“not just a political ideology or economic philosophy,” but an electoral strategy, not one thing or the other but all of the above. In the age of the permanent campaign, that is, in this historical moment, in these times, when the difference between an electoral and an governing coalition disappeared, an electoral strategy is an agenda for and a method of governance (think of how Obama won in 2008), and as such it involves not merely short-term bargaining but long-term purposes, and those purposes must include calculations about how government functions to validate or disable the programmatic positions of the party at the state and federal levels.
No wonder Edsall compares the Republicans to the slaveholders of the antebellum South-—and the divisions of our time to those.